For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough 

4:1.  “But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was very angry.”

It is difficult to believe that one who had had such an experience as he, could have dared to be angry with God for saving the people of Nineveh, but it simply demonstrates the wickedness of pride, for as noted already, he was angered at the possibility of his being discredited as a prophet.  It might have been expected that he would have counted that a very small thing compared to the salvation of the Ninevites, but the preservation of his own prophetic reputation was clearly more important to him than anything else. 

Does honesty not compel us to admit that very often we are guilty of the same sin?  Is it not the fear of being considered foolish that frequently keeps us from telling others of their need to be born again?

How different it was with Christ, relative to Whom we are commanded, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: who being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant (bond slave), and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross,” Php 2:5-8.

4:2.  “And he prayed unto the Lord, and said, I pray thee, O Lord, was not this my saying, when I was yet in my country?  Therefore I fled before unto Tarshish: for I knew that thou art a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repentest thee of the evil.”

Jonah seemed to be blind to everything except his own wounded pride, being indifferent not only to the fate of the Ninevites, but actually angry that they had saved themselves by believing the message he had delivered, and turning to God in repentant, contrite faith.

There seems to be no explanation for his attitude other than the fact that God would have us see Israel’s attitude mirrored in  Jonah’s, for down through the centuries they have manifested the same envious spirit towards the Gentiles.  But why present us with such a picture?  The answer is simple.  Israel is God’s mirror in which every man may see his own reflection, for the same proud, envious spirit as marked them lurks in the heart of all of us; and by seeing it so clearly in Jonah and Israel we may the more easily see the same evil in ourselves, and seek the grace to put it away.

Basically Jonah’s sin was pride, and while the same evil in us may not manifest itself in jealousy at the conversion of sinners, it is revealed in countless other ways.  One evangelist, for example, may be jealous of another who wins more converts than he.  A teacher may envy another who has been given the gift of teaching in greater measure.  An elder likewise may envy another whose gift of oversight is greater than his own.  There is no evil more subtle, insidious, and invidious than pride.

However blind Jonah may have been to his own hateful pride, he was not blind to the character of God, which makes his own attitude the more inexplicable.  He was well aware that God was gracious, grace being the virtue which bestows blessing upon the undeserving; and he was equally well aware that God was merciful,  ever ready to withhold deserved punishment.  And it was the same with God’s being “slow to anger,” Jonah himself having had first hand experience of that patience.  “... and repentest thee of the evil.”  His own deliverance from the belly of the fish, and the salvation of the Ninevites, were unquestionable evidence of God’s readiness to respond to repentance by withholding judgment, and bestowing blessing.

And so much was he controlled by pride that he dared to impugn God’s character, trying to make His good appear evil!  The wonder is that God didn’t strike him dead on the spot, but the rebellious prophet was not stricken just because God is all that Jonah had had to confess Him to be: gracious, merciful, patient, kind, and more ready to bless than to punish.

4:3.  “Therefore now, O Lord, take, I beseech thee, my life from me; for it is better for me to die than to live.”

It is almost impossible to grasp the full extent of Jonah’s  anger.  He was obviously beside himself with rage, his preservation revealing the extent of God’s patience in response to such blatant defiance.  But surely only blind eyes will fail to see in this the foreshadowing of the greater grace, mercy, patience, and kindness with which God responded to Israel’s murder of His Son, when He assured them through His servant Peter that He was willing to pardon it as a sin of ignorance if only they would repent and accept His mercy, “And now, brethren, I know that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers.  But those things which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.  Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord,” Ac 3:17-19.

Israel’s destruction just thirty-eight years later, in AD 70, sounds the warning, that great as it is, God’s mercy has a limit, and woe betide the man or nation who tempts it beyond that limit.

The enraged prophet had the audacity to tell God what was best, declaring, “... it is better for me to die than to live.”  It was only because of His love, grace, and mercy, that God didn’t take him at his word.  But must we not confess that while we may not have expressed it in words, we have often entertained the same evil thought, that we knew better than God what was best?

4:4.  “Then said the Lord, Doest thou well to be angry?”

What patient grace is revealed in God’s simply asking the rebellious prophet if his anger was justified?  How often that same patient grace has also preserved us from His judgment!

4:5.  “So Jonah went out of the city, and sat on the east side of the city, and there made him a booth, and sat under it in the shadow, till he might see what would become of the city.”

His going to the east side of the city is in perfect accord with his attitude, for in Scripture the east, contrary to popular belief, is always associated with sin and departure from God, there being not one good mention of it in all of God’s Word, as any concordance will verify.  Nor is it difficult to imagine what was in his mind.  There is every reason to believe that he was hoping against hope that the judgment he had foretold would yet consume the Ninevites.  And again, it is a reflection of the attitude that marked apostate Israel’s attitude to the Gentiles through all the weary centuries during which that very attitude has deprived her of blessing.  It is ominously significant that neither in the past, nor in the present, has Israel ever preached the Gospel.

“... and there made him a booth.”  A booth is very different from a permanent dwelling, for it speaks of transience.  He, in his temporary shelter on the east side of the city, is a fitting figure of Israel as she has been for the past twenty centuries.  She too has known only transience during those years, moving as a wanderer amongst the nations, out of touch with God, and out of the land He wants her to enjoy, her heart filled with anger as she hears the hated Gentiles preaching the gospel she herself refused to preach, and still refuses to believe.  Jonah’s hoped for destruction of the Ninevites finds an echo in the Jewish heart today, for her belief is that the Gentiles are accursed, and excluded from heaven because of their refusal to submit to the ritual of Judaism.

His sitting under it “in the shadow” is also instructive, for it adds another brush stroke to the portrait of Israel as painted by the Divine Artist.  Shadow results from impediment of light, and that is exactly where the Jew sits today.  His refusal to abandon the pursuit of righteousness through law-keeping has deprived him of the illumination of the Holy Spirit, so that he cannot see the clarity with which his own Scriptures verify that Jesus Christ is the foretold Messiah.

4:6.  “And the Lord God prepared a gourd, and made it come up over Jonah, that it might be a shadow over his head, to deliver him from his grief.  So Jonah was exceeding glad of the gourd.”

God’s watchful care over disobedient Israel continues to be portrayed in His provision of the gourd for rebellious Jonah’s comfort.  The exact nature of the gourd is unknown, and is not essential to an understanding of the truth being symbolically set before us: it appears to represent the care with which God has watched over scattered Israel, preserving her for ultimate blessing even while she languishes amongst the Gentiles, awaiting the day when she can return to her own land.  (The restoration of her autonomy in 1948, and the continuing return of many Jews to  Palestine, are just two of many signs indicating that her long night of weeping is soon to give place to the joy that comes in the morning).

4:7.  “But God prepared a worm when the morning rose the next day, and it smote the gourd that it withered.”

It doesn’t take much spiritual insight to realize that this verse is the symbolic foreshadowing of the fact that the Tribulation, “the time of Jacob’s trouble” is near.

“... when the morning rose the next day.”  The dawning of that new day points to the fact that a new day is about to dawn for Israel; and as it was the dawning of a day of misery for Jonah, so will that new day be also for Israel.  The imminent rapture of the Church will be followed by another “new day,” the day in which God will officially resume His dealing with rebel Israel.  That day will be Daniel’s seventieth week, the seven year Tribulation era, the final half of which will be the Great Tribulation.  In that day the “worm” will smite the “gourd,” the Gentile nations where scattered Israel has sheltered for the past two thousand years, for Scripture makes it clear that the Great Tribulation will bring the utter destruction of the whole great edifice of Gentile power and might.  The “gourd” will wither.

The worm, incidentally, working unseen to bring about the destruction of the gourd, portrays the unseen working of God by which He will destroy Gentile power in the Tribulation.

4:8.  “And it came to pass, when the sun did arise, that God prepared a vehement east wind; and the sun beat upon the head of Jonah, that he fainted, and wished in himself to die, and said, It is better for me to die than to live.”

The rising of the sun continues to portray the beginning of a new day for Israel - and the nations, for it is to be realized that it wasn’t Jonah alone who suffered under the heat of a blazing sun and the violent east wind: all of Nineveh suffered.  “Vehement” means sultry, dry, burning, scorching; and as noted above, the east is always associated with sin and departure from God, and therefore with judgment.  That quickly approaching day will spread misery across the whole earth; nor should we fail to read the significance of the scorching heat, for in the book of Revelation we read relative to the Great Tribulation, that phenomenal heat will be one of the agents bringing unimaginable suffering upon the world, “And the fourth angel poured out his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with fire.  And men were scorched with great heat, and blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues; and they repented not to giver him glory,” Re 16:8-9.  (To blaspheme is to vilify, speak impiously, defame, rail, revile, speak evil of).

Jonah’s misery under the scorching sun, and the blasting torrid east wind, is a typological picture of the misery that will afflict Israel and the nations in the Great Tribulation.  As he wished to die, so will men during that awful time when the long restrained judgment of God is unleashed, and envelops the earth, “And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them,”Re 9:6.

4:9.  “And God said to Jonah, Doest thou well to be angry for the gourd?  And he said;, I do well to be angry, even unto death.”

It isn’t difficult to see in Jonah’s angry, rebellious retort to God’s question, a foreshadowing of the unrepentant anger that will lead men to defy God, and blaspheme as they writhe under His just judgment in the Great Tribulation, see again the quotation from Re 16:8-9, “And men ... blasphemed the name of God ... and they repented not to give him glory.”

4:10.  “Then said the Lord, Thou hast had pity on the gourd, for the which thou hast not labored, neither madest it grow; which came up in a night, and perished in a night;”

4:11.  “And should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six score thousand persons that cannot discern between their right hand and their left hand; and also much cattle.”

The ATT translation of verse 11 reads, “... a hundred and twenty thousand infants....”

These two verses reveal the tender love of God for perishing men and women, and remind us of what is also written, “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?.... For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God: wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye,” Ezek 18:23,32.  “As I live saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel,” Ezek 33:11; and again,  “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise ... but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Pe 3:9.  The man who surveys Calvary, and doubts God’s love for sinners, is incapable of rational thought.

His viewing the Ninevites, and all sinners, as infants, further discloses the tenderness of His love for perishing men and women, and His readiness to pardon them and bestow His priceless gift of eternal life, if they will but repent and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

An obvious question presents itself at this point, Why does this book close with Jonah - in spite of all he has suffered for his disobedience - still not reconciled to God?  The answer is that in the salvation of the Ninevites, we are meant see the salvation of the Gentiles during this age of grace, during which Israel remains stubbornly unrepentant, her salvation awaiting her repentance which will not come until the Tribulation, which will follow the rapture of the Gentile Church.

It is to be noted, incidentally, that while Nineveh was a great city, it was only a small part of the great Assyrian Empire which was unaffected by Jonah’s preaching, and which did not therefore share in the blessing of the Ninevites.  In this God would have us understand that while there will be a great multitude of Gentiles saved during this present age of grace, there will be also vastly greater multitudes who will reject salvation, and who will therefore perish.  It is the Lord Himself Who has answered the question relative to the number of those who will be saved, “Enter ye in at the strait (narrow) gate: for wide is the gate,, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait (narrow) is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it,” Mt 7:13-14.

It is the prayer of the writer that the study of these notes might be used of God to encourage His people to greater zeal in spreading the Gospel; and should they be read by an unbeliever, to awaken him to a realization of his danger, leading him to make himself one of the few who enter into life by trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough